Over the years we came up with several group activities that let our kids know they were part of something larger than themselves. When they felt like they were part of an important organization, like the family, they felt they mattered because the family mattered. This feeling not only strengthened their sibling relationships--they often stuck up for each other at school--but it cut down on friction inside the home as well. These activities are beyond the normal, everyday things like eating dinner and playing or reading aloud together. The following are a few of our favorite things to do:
- “I like you because...” We occasionally devoted our weekly family council meetings to this ego-boosting exercise. Everyone formed a circle with one member sitting in the middle. Then we went around the family and each one told why they liked that person, why he/she was special, and what they especially enjoyed doing together. Each member of the family got a turn in the middle and even the very young ones, who might not have understood what was being said about them, loved all the attention. This activity was enjoyable for everyone, even me. We didn’t do this more than once a year or it would have lost its appeal.
- Link by Link. Since our family was so large, another popular game was to build a chain out of construction paper with each link representing one member. Everyone got to choose the color they wanted to represent them, and then we cut strips of equal length and width. As we linked the strips together in order of birth, we told each person’s story. First we interlocked Lloyd’s link with mine as we told how we met, courted and married. We then joined each child’s link to the chain and told stories about that person’s birth. We especially stressed how excited everyone was to see the new baby. When we were finished, we pointed out that every link was important and the chain would not be complete without any one link. We used to display these chains in the dining room for a month or so.
- The Family Tree. A more permanent exhibit in our dining room was an embroidered family tree that spanned five generations. It was often the focal point of dinner table discussions and was a conversation starter when guests came over. It was an enjoyable way for the kids to get to know something about their ancestors which included a German mercenary who deserted the British army during the American Revolution. He hid out with a colonial family and later married their daughter. Another ancestress was the person who wove a section of the red carpet for Queen Victoria’s coronation and later walked across the plains with a wagon train to settle in the Salt Lake Valley. Her wagon had to stop three days outside of Salt Lake while she delivered her baby. Our kids had grandfathers in World Wars I and II and learned their stories. Every family has inspiring people and events, and it makes kids feel good about themselves when they realize they are descendants of courageous people like these.
- Family Videos. It’s a good idea to record important events like the first step, an elementary school program, holidays, or even just playing together. You’ll probably find that these are your kids’ favorite videos to watch. You could take it a step further and set up an interview station and invite relatives to sit down for a brief taping. Ask for a little personal history first, then lead into such questions as, “What are your funniest childhood memories?” “When you were growing up, which of your relatives did you especially admire and why?” “What traits would you say describe the family personality?” Have a list of questions ready and ask away. While we didn’t have the means to make these videos until later, we did have videos of two interviews of our family that appeared on nation-wide TV. We watched them over and over.
- A Family Motto. When our kids were still small, Lloyd came up with a ditty we all chanted as we walked along: “We are the Abbotts, the mighty, mighty Abbotts! Everywhere we go-o-o-, people want to know-ow-ow, who we are, so we tell them...We are the Abbott’s, the mighty, mighty Abbotts...” Eventually the older kids didn’t appreciate singing this at the top of their lungs in public, but the younger ones sang out with gusto no matter where they were. When Kristen babysat another family, she taught their kids to sing our song, and I wondered how those parents felt about their kids singing, “We are the Abbotts...”
- Seasonal activities. Holidays are a natural time for tradition-building, everything from dying Easter eggs to decorating the Christmas tree. But beware--if you do something twice, it will become a hide-bound tradition that will be expected from then on. But this is a natural time for fun projects that involve the whole family. And maybe it’s even a case of the more the better.